Monday, February 04, 2008

Debney Watkins Shed

I had the pleasure of meeting the writer and Canterbury Laureate Patricia Debney at the recent Your Messages event which I posted about last week. I was even more delighted to discover that she, or to be more precise her partnerRoderick Watkins, is a shedworker. Here's what Patricia says, a lovely short essay about the delights of shedworking and co-shedworking:
"Roderick is a composer (we've done an opera together) and over our 20 years together he has gradually become more and more dedicated to silence - and more, to 'not having anyone around' while he works. We have always had work spaces in our houses, luckily, one each. However, as the children got older and more able to occupy themselves, he found himself with a couple of hours on his hands but no way to write or work, as he hated being around anyone else. Whereas I can always concentrate, at least on the small pieces. I'm sure it's something about sound worlds for him, needing real emptiness.

"This conundrum floated around for a couple of years. In the end, neither of us could really work, because we couldn't figure out how to split our time and space, were rather paralysed. In addition, for years he had occupied the largest room in the house because it was the only one big enough for the old grand piano and the famed hand-made desk. His father is a retired GP, but always loved wood, and one of the first things he made was this beautiful mahogany desk with green tooled leather. Flipping massive, with the most enormous drawers on either side.

Anyway, hence Roderick had the largest room. Okay while the kids were little, but again, as we started to spread out, the playroom/sitting room next to the kitchen just felt tiny, and I began to feel this space, this hole in the middle of the house, where his study was. Like we weren't even living here, but existing around the edges. Four years ago I woke quite suddenly and uncharacteristically in the middle of the night, and was struck by an idea so utterly it was like being possessed: he needed a shed in the garden. It was like a puzzle piece slotting in, and I could see the rest of the house falling into place around it, the rest of the way we lived and he worked....I had not a moment's doubt that this was the way and the truth.

"He took a little convincing (too expensive, surely not all for him?), but then set about it with gusto. He designed it to the exact proportions of the room in the house, put in double-glazed windows all over the place, added a small front deck, and found a British company that would cut the wood off-site, then come and build it. And six months later, in September 2004, they did. Everything slid together (again, like a puzzle). The only nails in it are those holding the wooden floor down. Roderick himself dug the trench for the electrics, the ethernet, the phone....

"And he loves it. He comes back in from it cheerful, relaxed. He watches the local foxes slink across the back garden, and has seen kingfishers, pheasant, rabbits, ducks, voles, etc from his desk. And as predicted, it completely changed the way we are able to use the house. We now have a sitting room with an old upright piano for the kids, space to sit together not facing the tv etc. I like small spaces, and stay in my attic room with a couple of bookcases and a desk, the old nursery. Roderick likes big spaces, and in the summer his space is so big that with the french doors open it's the whole back garden. When I've had huge jobs to do in the holidays, I've occasionally used it, but do find it a bit...echoey!

"We've always called it a shed. None of this garden studio stuff. Our friends laugh: it is the size of a little cottage. But it's only one room. And is a shed. And from it, he sees and hears no one, nothing human. Which is just how he likes it. R's shed marks a real shift in our working lives, in so many ways. It also marks a time in our relationship when we so thoroughly acknowledged our differences, what we needed or didn't need in order to be happy -- and our acceptance of these things in ourselves and each other. A big deal!"


  1. nice one..

    we need more scholarly sheddies, get them to share!

  2. Anonymous9:40 PM

    Do you remember me a student at NSAD. I am nowadays known as the Rochdale Ranter, a performance poet. I so much empathise with the shed concept. Apart from being a performance poet in Northern England, I have my own shed deep in a forest in Poland